Whales: An Unforgettable Journey (1997) Movie Script

It's a place as alien as space
a fluid world of
darkness and cold
and extraordinary forms of life.
Though at risk here, humanity
descends in shells of steel
compelled by
our insatiable curiosity.
Hidden in the haze of the sea
are creatures so immense and
so mysterious, they seem unreal.
A mammoth pulse of life,
picked up through hydrophones-
The beat of a heart so large
it can be heard two miles away.
No animals more enthrall us
than the giants whose songs echo
across the vastness of the deep
who roam somewhere beyond
our view and our understanding-
the largest creatures
ever to live on earth.
For all life in the sea
successful feeding is
the key to survival.
Many creatures,
like the manta ray
take advantage of
a remarkable food source-
swarms found throughout the
ocean of plankton, larval fish
and tiny shrimp called krill
collectively the greatest mass
of protein in the entire world.
Filtering out the tiny food
through strainers in its gills,
the manta can live on the relatively
sparse plankton of the tropics.
But the great baleen or
toothless whales also filter feeders-
must find greater concentrations
of it elsewhere - or they'll starve.
The great whales'
search for food
can force them to journey
across an entire ocean.
Masters of starvation, they
can survive on their blubber
while they wait for
the plankton swarms to reappear.
Barely visible to us as red
surface patches marked by birds
the massive krill swarms
in cool upwellings or polar seas
are the primary food sources
sufficient to sustain
the greatest of all whales,
the rarely seen Blue Whale.
A blue often drives krill to the surface
then lunges to engulf them
clamping its huge mouth shut
like a trap while on its side.
Comb-like filters in its mouth,
called baleen
act like sieves, capturing the
krill as the water drains away.
The whale simply swallows
the meal that's left.
More than a hundred feet long
and a hundred tons
the Blue Whale is the largest
animal ever to live on the earth
surpassing any dinosaur.
Its heart is bigger
than a small car.
A child could crawl
through its largest arteries.
Their voices are equally mighty,
carrying at least a thousand
miles through the sea.
Yet as large and loud
as they are
Blue whales are among the
most elusive of all creatures.
The story of the whale is
one we can piece together
only as fragments,
gathered species by species
from the farthest corners
of the world.
One of the best places to peer
into the lives of whales
is Peninsula Valdes on the
southern coast of Argentina.
Each winter, Right Whales follow
unknown routes from
distant feeding grounds
to gather in
the calm shallows off Valdes.
Once found along the coast
of every continent
the Right Whale was hunted
to the edge of extinction.
Today their numbers have
recovered to about 4,000.
Peninsula Valdes is one
of the great intersections
of sea, land and
wildlife left on earth.
Elephant Seals gather here
by the thousands to breed
and share the beach
with Magellanic Penguins
who also migrate here
each year
then waddle ashore
to claim a patch of sand.
Since 1970, biologist Roger Payne
has walked these same beaches
to study the Right Whales.
This is my favorite place
in the world.
Here in Peninsula Valdes, Right Whales
come so close to shore
you can spend an afternoon walking
along a beach in their company.
And at night, whenever
the herd moves into the bay
the sound of
their breathing wakes you.
On the head of
every Right Whale -
roughly where facial hair
appears on humans-
there are hard, white patches
of thickened skin called callosities.
We've found that no two patterns
are exactly alike
making it possible
to tell individuals apart.
The males have more
and bigger callosities
and they use them like horns
to fight over females.
Using callosity patterns
like human fingerprints
we can now follow the lives of more
than 1,300 individual Right whales.
Some, like Troff,
have become old friends.
The relatively quiet waters
of these bays
seem an ideal nursery
for the whales
while the cliffs provide
a perfect vantage point
for Payne and his team
to observe whale behavior.
On average, Right Whales give
birth to one calf every three years.
Curiously, one in 50
is born white
but only remains so
for the first year of its life.
Fewer than ten white calves are ever
alive on the planet at the same time.
Like people, mother whales keep
their babies right next to them
where they can be watched
continuously - and protected.
Like children of all species,
whale calves seek attention.
And to get it, a mischievous calf will
sometimes drape its body
over its mother's blowhole
so she can't breathe.
Adults can also be playful.
A whale will often hold its tail
up as a sail and ride the wind.
They don't sail to get places.
Perhaps they do it just for fun.
Tail slapping and breaching
serve many purposes.
They may be a form
of communication.
It seems to be a challenge
to other whales
and often gets
the whole bay going.
When seas are calm, Right whales
often rest or sleep head down
with their tails in the air.
Naturally buoyant, they got
their name from whalers.
Because they were rich in oil
which kept them afloat when killed
they were
the "right whales" to hunt.
On occasion, members
of Payne's scientific team
must approach near enough
to check the general health
of an individual whale
by close inspection of its skin.
Though the diver is here
to observe the whale
her subject seems
just as interested in her.
Observing whales in their
habitat can be dangerous.
A blow from a fluke
that weighs a ton
could easily render
a diver unconscious.
Eye to eye across the gulf
between species.
Although we've learned
a great deal about Right Whales-
an enormous mystery remains.
We don't know precisely
where they all go
when they leave
Peninsula Valdes.
We know only that
they'll be back again next year.
Another chapter in the whale
story can be found off Hawaii
a major breeding and calving
ground for Humpback Whales
a species we know better
than most other whales.
The sailing vessel Odyssey
will allow Payne's team
to both study and live
among the whales.
Almost immediately
whales appear.
Though many people
are unaware of it
dolphins are actually toothed
whales, along with porpoises
the smallest of some
75 whale species in the world.
Most whales, like the Humpbacks,
have to be sought out
but dolphins often come to us.
Dolphins spend their lives
immersed in a sea of sound.
They use whistles
to keep in touch
and rapid clicks to examine their world
through echolocation.
What captivates Payne most
about Humpbacks
is their underwater sounds.
But to hear them, he has to
leave the noise of the Odyssey.
In the 1960's, Roger P. and Scott McVay
discovered that Humpbacks sing
and Payne has spent years recording
their songs through hydrophones.
We know next to nothing about what
the songs of Humpback Whales mean.
We do know
that only the males sing.
It seems to be done to attract females
and to challenge other males.
Everyone in this area
sings the same song
but it changes subtly over time.
Like human singers,
Humpbacks often employ rhymes
apparently to help them
remember complex songs.
Suspended head down
and motionless
they sometimes sing
for hours at a time.
The songs are shatteringly loud.
Biologist Debbie Glockner-Ferrari
has worked in Hawaii since 1975
studying humpback whales.
At age six, her daughter is
already an eager assistant.
I love working with whales,
especially mothers and calves
but they can be
difficult to study
because they're often pursued
by groups of aggressive males.
Though they may look
peaceful underwater
ten enormous whale Humpbacks
rushing by can pose a 400-ton threat
to any researcher who happens
to get in their path.
Physical contact with their mothers
is very important to the babies.
As an observer my own relationship
varies from whale to whale.
Their natures often seem as
diverse as human personalities.
Some barrel past
as if I'm not there.
Others will let me
approach freely.
This small calf we've named Echo.
Her mother's name is Misty.
Echo is always curious
about what's around her.
Young calves are often playful swimming
right up to get a closer look at me.
But their mothers
are always nearby.
Humpback mothers are
pregnant for about a year.
They give birth to a single calf
that weighs two to three tons.
While the baby is nursing
it's thought to gain
about a hundred pounds a day
in the first few weeks.
Like humans, whales
are air breathers.
When Echo was born her mother most
likely pushed her to the surface
for her first breath of air.
Often a male suitor will
accompany the mother and calf
and while the mothers and
escorts typically stay under
for about
a quarter of an hour
babies like Echo have to
come up for air every few minutes.
Humpbacks breed and give birth
here in Hawaii but they don't eat here.
To feed, they must undertake
an incredible journey
swimming more than 3,000 miles
to Alaskan waters.
During that long migration the calf will
rarely leave its mother's side.
A young whale would stand
very little chance
of surviving alone
in the open ocean.
When Misty and Echo leave for Alaska
I feel excited but worried for them.
Their trip across the ocean
and back is filled with hazards.
Some of the whales I've gotten
to know have never returned.
Ships plying modern sea lanes
cross migratory routes of whales.
Accidental encounters
are often fatal.
Through a gauntlet of dangers,
Misty and Echo will follow
ancient whale pathways
to Alaska.
Within the watery depths
are bones of their ancestors-
reminders of the days when whalers
waited along these migration routes
driving many species
to near extinction.
Though whaling is now much
reduced, it still continues
and some whalers kill
even endangered species.
How whales navigate the globe
is still a mystery to us.
They may be assisted
by the calls of distant whales
beacons to guide them
through the deep.
Though masters of navigation
there are some obstacles
they cannot avoid.
As whales approach the coast
some get caught
in fishermen's nets.
Even the strongest whale
struggling to free itself,
may drown.
But in faraway Newfoundland
a lucky few in this predicament
get to meet biologist Jon Lien
who has freed
more than a thousand whales.
In a hopeful change
of conscience
the human has turned
from hunter to helper.
One might expect
an entangled whale
dragging the boat of its
helpers, to be aggressive-
but Jon has never been hurt
while freeing them.
The whales seem to know
they're being helped
and accept it passively,
perhaps even gratefully.
After weeks at sea,
the Humpbacks approach Alaska.
Some may have lost nearly
a third of their weight since last eating.
No animal on Earth makes a greater
effort while going without food.
One of the gravest threats
faced by traveling whales
comes not from people,
but from their own kind.
Here, a skull of a Killer Whale
is a ghostly reminder
that they lurk
in the surrounding waters.
Armed with massive teeth,
they are to other whales
the most fearsome predator
in the sea.
Roaming in packs, Killer Whales
often prey on whale calves
and even attack adults.
In open water,
there's no place to hide.
Not all whales will reach
their destination.
A final piece of the whale story lies
in the icy waters of Alaska-
both feeding grounds and journey's end
for the migrating Humpbacks.
The Odyssey and its crew
have sailed here to wait for their arrival.
Around Odyssey, the season of plenty
has begun in the far North.
Though the Humpbacks
are headed here
for the swarms of krill
and tiny fish
the spring and summer months
in Alaska also provide a bounty
for year-round residents.
A wildlife spectacle around
them, but no whales in sight.
Days of looking turn to weeks.
As big as whales are,
they can be hard to find.
You can often hear them
before you see them.
The long and hazardous journey
is over.
The whales have made it back.
A big male comes to the boat
and rides the bow wave
something Payne has never seen
a Humpback whale do before.
As the day wears on,
more and more whales arrive
but to the crew's
Misty and Echo
are not among them.
Finally, a procession of mothers
and calves begins to arrive.
Then, the moment
they had hoped for.
By sheer luck, they spot a calf
with familiar markings.
It's Echo...
...and Misty is with her.
They've made it unharmed.
The long months of fasting end
as the herd assembles to feast.
Dependent until now
on their mothers milk
the calves are about to get
their first taste of krill and fish.
Humpbacks have developed one of the
most unusual feeding strategies in the sea.
In a coordinated action,
they blow nets made of bubbles
to encircle
small schools of fish.
Then, while one submerged whale
screams to concentrate the prey
they all rocket upward
through the bubble net
to engulf the trapped fish
in their huge mouths.
It's a perfect strategy.
The fish won't cross
the barrier of bubbles.
Seldom seen by humans
it is one of nature's
most extraordinary sights.
When summer ends, the Humpbacks
turn southward again
continuing the ancient cycle
of their lives.
Most of their existence
remains shrouded in mystery
yet the more we learn, the more
we move to protect their world
so that far into the future
our children's children can still marvel
at the songs and secrets
of the mightiest creatures
the Earth has ever known.